Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Going to court can be fun !



For most of us, gong to court usually is not a pleasant experience. The last time that Sharon and I went to court (to unsuccessfully fight a bogus credit card debt) we got rear-ended on the way to the DuPage Government Center, and had to reschedule our meeting. Sharon wound up going to a local hospital to have her back pains taken care of, and the guy that hit us totaled his car.

However, not all the trips to the court house are unpleasant, and we just experienced one of those happy trips on Friday, December 16, at the government center in downtown Tucson.

Kelly and her long time friend Chris met on a website called “plenty of fish” almost exactly 5 years ago. Our initial opinion of Chris was the same one you would get when your 15 year old daughter comes home with her biker friend. He had long, kinky hair, his body was covered with tattoos, and he hasn’t worked for years. Like all relationships, they have had a few rocky moments over the last 5 years, but discovered that they had a lot of common interests, and gradually experienced a deepening of feelings towards each other.



Now, for a little background …

There are numerous organizations that will accept hair from people so that bald cancer patients will have wigs to wear, and that is why Chris had been growing his hair for 2 years by the time that we met him.

I’m not a fan of tattoos personally, but I am reminded of a quote that I saw recently, where an individual discovered that an acquaintance who was covered with tattoos was one of the nicest people in the world, but another acquaintance who attended church every single week was a despicable hypocrite.



The reason that Chris has not worked for years was that he was injured when he was serving his country (in the Navy), and he has been a "regular customer" of the VA ever since.

In many relationships, the female half is more eager to tie the knot, but our non-traditional daughter was actually the one who dragged her feet. As they approached the 5 year mark, they mutually agreed it was finally time to get hitched – so they did.

Kim Kardashion’s mega-million dollar wedding to Chris Humphries resulted in a divorce 40 days later, so Kelly and Chris had long ago decided that a big church wedding was simply not in the cards.

The other option to getting married was to go to a Justice of the Peace, which is an option that my sister Mary chose more than 40 years ago. It’s also a very popular option in Tucson , where weddings are performed on Tuesday and Friday. On the night that we went to the courthouse, there were roughly 40 other couples, some of whom were visibly pregnant, and some of whom already had children.

When it came time to witness the uniting of Chris and Kelly, our Justice of the Peace was a man named Paul Simon, who was actually a great guy. Due to the fact that we all wore Star Wars t-shirts, he decided that we were the most fun group of the evening.



When my sister Mary’s daughter got married 5 years ago, she and her hubby Thom got married outdoors deep in the woods of the San Bernadino mountains. All of the food was vegetarian, and all of the deserts were homemade pies, and it was a MARVELOUS experience.

The after-wedding dinner for Kelly and Chris was at a local vegetarian restaurant in Tucson called Lovin’ Spoonfuls, which happens to be one of the restaurants that Brian’s company delivers food for. Believe it or not, the food was FANTASTIC, and the wine was also very good. I have a feeling that Kelly and Chris are going to be a married couple for a very long time. To borrow a quote from the Star Wars series, “may the force be with you”.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Are the Finns REALLY smarter than us?



Nearly two years ago, I wrote a couple of article about why the Finns are smarter than us (one article was written in English, and the other was written in Finnish).

The topic of the quality of our K-12 school system came up in a discussion at one of the local high schools the other day, and the person who I was talking with blamed the slip in our status to the Department of Education.



Although our universities are still among the best in the world, our K-12 schools are ranked 18th in the world, and the Finns are #1, which begs the question. Are we really that bad, or have the Finns improved that much?

America has long had a history of excellent education systems. A large part of the reason that our economy is the largest in the world is that the G.I. bill allowed returning WWII vets to pursue higher education, which led to more and competitive institutions of higher learning. As recently as 1996, our K-12 system was ranked the best in the world, but by 2009, we had slipped to #18. The decline came about due to complacency and inefficiency, as well as inconsistencies among the various school systems.

The Department of Education actually didn’t exist until October 17, 1979. Prior to that time, its duties were performed by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The Department of Education is by far the smallest cabinet-level department, with about 5000 employees, and an annual budget of around $73 billion. The Department of Health and Human Services has the largest budget, at ($869 billion in 2010), but defense is close behind, with a budget of $692 billion. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 also allowed the Department of Education to obtain some additional funds. In 2009, this act channeled an additional $102 billion to the Department of Education, but funding ceased after 2012.

After our K-12 system had slipped in ranking compared to other countries, education leaders throughout the country realized that some changes needed to be made. In 2009, the National Governors Association started to work on new standards for education, The final solution that the Governors Association developed became known as Common Core, and the standards have been adopted by 42 of the 50 states. Three states (Oklahoma, Indiana, and South Carolina) initially adopted Common Core, but have since repealed it. Significantly, Texas (which has an outsized influence on the textbooks that are used nationwide) never adopted the standards. Texas also leads the nation in the number of students are home schooled, with roughly 300,000 children in 120,000 families. Some of those children are not being educated at all, since their families believe that the will all be called up in “the rapture”.

It’s safe to say that the Common Core standards are not understood by large members of the public, some of whom feel that it is a Federally-mandated program that is being forced on them.

It’s not, and the Federal government has no control over that program, but DID provide incentives for adopting the program.

The largest group of private schools in the country is the Catholic school system, and there is also a lot of disagreement in the leaders of this group about the value of Common Core. The National Catholic Educational Association takes the position that that is nothing incompatible in the Core with Catholic education, but the U.S Council Bishops (who advised NOT voting for Donald Trump) has urged Catholic schools to be cautious about using the Common Core.

The Cardinal Newman Society, a conservative Catholic organization is anti-Core, and is writing its own standards. To further confuse matters, an organization called the National Association of Private Catholic and Independent Schools has urged its members not to use Common Core, and to use the standards that IT is developing.

Since Finland’s student population is more homogenous than ours, it was easier for them to improve their standards. In contrast, America has long been the melting pot of the world, which makes it more difficult to make sweeping changes in our educational system.

One of the main reasons for the decline in our ranking is the lack of consistency between school districts, and Common Core was created specifically to address that issue. However, since Common Core is neither universally understood, nor embraced, we will likely continue to be ranked a long ways from the best in the world for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Neda



In June of 2009, Iran held an election that pitted the incumbent President Mahmound Ahmadinejad against challengers Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and Mohsen Rezaee. Although the incumbent President had captured 60% of the vote, there were widespread reports of election fraud (rigging) that led to demonstrations throughout Iran.

The protests in Iran started on the night of June 12, 2009, and lasted until February 10, 2011. In addition to numerous cities in Iran, the protests also expanded into a variety of cities in 40 other countries.

Officially, the number of deaths in the demonstrations was 36, but the number was actually closer to 72, and none of them were as famous as the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death was posted on Facebooks, and quickly became the most watched killing in history.



In addition to those killed, an estimated 4000 people were arrested, Although the world was largely sympathetic to the protestors, the protests were not successful in forcing Ahmadinejad from power. He was term limited by the constitution to two terms, and was replaced on August 3, 2013 by Hassan Rouhani, who is the incumbent President.

That video is posted below:

dying in the street

At the time of her death, Neda was 26 years old, and she worked for her family’s travel agency. She was apolitical, and was not participating in the demonstrations. She simply stopped by with her music teacher to observe. As she walked back to her car, she was fatally shot in the chest. Although the identity of the murderer is still in dispute, reliable sources say that he was a member of Basij, a paramilitary group. The individual who has been accused of being the killer is named Abbas Kargar Javid, who is a member of Basij.

Neda’s story came to mind the week of November 7, when Donald Trump shocked and surprised the world by gaining more electoral votes than Hillary Clinton, even though she had gained roughly 400,000 more of the popular votes than he did. A week later, her margin was over 1,000,000 more votes, and is projected to be close to 2,000,000 by the time all the votes are counted.

In the latter stages of the campaign, Trump stated his belief that the election was rigged, due to the fact that virtually all the polls said the Hillary Clinton would have an easy win.

Trump is right. The campaign WAS rigged, but it was rigged by HIS campaign, not Hillary’s.

I have personally asked the Justice Department to investigation three specific areas of his campaign, which are as follows:

1) The website of the Democratic National Committee was hacked sometime this fall, and 20,000 emails were leaked to Wikileaks. In early October, the Department of Homeland Security and the intelligence community stated that they were confident that Moscow is behind the leaks.

2) 11 days before the election, FBI director James Comey sent a memo to Congress that he was taking another look at some of Hillary’s emails that had turned up in correspondence linked to Anthony Weiner, who is married (still) to Huma Abedin, a longtime friend of Mrs Clinton. She served as the vice chairwoman of Hillary’s Presidential campaign.

3) In mid - October, a senior Trump official told Businessweek that they had 3 major voter suppression operations in place. They were designed to suppress the votes of idealistic young liberals, young women, and African-Americans, all of whom are far more likely to vote Democratic than Republican. It is far too early to tell how successful the operations are, but the voter ID laws in Wisconsin, to use one example, caused 41,000 fewer votes to be cast in Milwaukee than were cast in 2012. In total, roughly 300,000 otherwise eligible voters in the state were denied the right to vote. Trump carried Wisconsin by 27,000 votes, and his margin in Michigan was an even thinner 11,000 votes.

Immediately after the election results were announced, protests erupted around the country. Both north bound Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, and parts of I-94 in the Twin Cities were blacked for a period of time by the protests, which have been overwhelming peaceful, and without incident. The one exception (so far) is Portland, Oregon, where a protestor was shot in the leg. The website of GOPUSA described the incident as “shooting in Portland as thugs rail against the Democrat process”, ignoring the fact that the right of assembly is enshrined in the 1st amendment of the Constitution.

If the inquiries by the Justice Department are not successful in reversing the results of the election, the next option is the Electoral College, which is scheduled to meet on December 19. Although historically the Electoral College has concurred with the electoral vote total, they are not obligated to do so. Ironically, Mr. Trump said that the Electoral College was a “disaster” during the 2012 Presidential campaign. In the event that enough electors switch their votes, and both candidates wind up with exactly 269 votes, then the decision passes to the House of Representatives. There are only two times in the history of our country that the House decided on the President, and the most recent decision was in 1824.

The Electoral College was designed to be a compromise between the government and the people. Alexander Hamilton was concerned that a charismatic tyrant could manipulate public opinion and come into power, which is why he did not want the President to be elected ONLY by popular vote, but he DID want voters to have a say in the process. Since a charismatic tyrant DID recently manipulate the public and become President-elect, the Electoral College has every right to reject him.

When Vice-President elect Mike Pence recently attended a performance of the play “Hamilton” in New York, he was booed by some members of the audience. At the end of the performance, one of the cast members addressed Pence directly, and politely asked him to protect the rights of ALL Americans. Trump took that as harassment, and immediately demanded (by tweet) that the cast members apologize. Trump, of course, has never apologized to the 281 people that HE criticized during the course of the campaign, but that’s just how he operates. The New York Times listed them by name on October 24, 2016.

If the Electoral College decided that Hillary Clinton should be the next President, there will be howls of protest from Republican voters, and there would likely be significant violence, since we have already seen plenty of examples of that during Trump’s campaign. Once the Electoral College has made its decision, it is ratified by the Senate, and that meeting is scheduled for December 6. Since the Republicans now control by houses o Congress, it’s unlikely that they would agree to a President Clinton, but you never know.

Once Trump is in office, a few observers have noted that he could well be impeached by his own party, which would give us President Pence, which isn’t much of an improvement. One of the reasons that he could be impeached is fraud committed before being elected, and a court date is set in California for November 28 that will examine the fraud he committed with Trump University. The rape case of the 13 year old girl is also scheduled to take place in New York before the end of the year. Since he just agreed to settle the Trump University case for $25 million, that case will not be going to trial, but the rape case is still dangling in the wind – as are 75 other pending court cases.

If Trump somehow manages to last 4 years, he is unlikely to get re-elected due to the following reasons:

1) The wall that he promised his supporters along the Mexican border isn’t going to get built. Although Trump has said the wall would cost $12 billion, a Washington Post study said the cost would be $25 billion, and would not result in no economic benefit to the United States. Mexico isn’t going to pay for the wall. If built, it would jeopardize our trade with Mexico, who is our 3rd largest trading partner. In 2015, we exported $267.2 billion worth of goods and services, and imported $316.4 billion. Since Canada is our 2nd largest trading partner, it’s clear that NAfTA was not the disaster that Mr. Trump said that it was.

2) He is not going to deport 11,000,000 illegal immigrants. According to a study by the American Action Forum, it would cost between $400 billion and $600 billion to do so.

3) He has already said that he isn’t going to repeal Obamacare, although it is certainly likely that it will be modified.

4) He has also stated that he is going to honor the nuclear arms treaty that was signed with Iran

5) If his tax plan were to be put in place, our national debt would skyrocket. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, his plan would increase our national debt by 5.3 trillion, a healthy increase over the 19.5 trillion dollars that it will be at the end of the 2017 fiscal year. It is interesting to note that the last time the national debt went down was when Jimmy Carter was President. Since the Eisenhower years, our national debt, as a percentage of GDP, had gone DOWN when a Democrat was President, and UP when a Republican was in office. Ronald Reagan nearly tripled the national debt when he was in office.

6) The “rust belt” jobs of the white workers in the Midwest who helped him get elected are not coming back. Technology has made them obsolete.

80% of the folks who would consider themselves to be Evangelical Christians voted for Trump, even though Pope Francis has stated that Trump was definitely NOT a Christian, and a lot of these folks voted for Trump due to the abortion issue. In at least some cases, that was the ONLY reason they voted for Trump. This issue was especially complex for Roman Catholics. Even though the Conference of Catholic bishops had urged them NOT to vote for Trump, a pastor in Phoenix has proclaimed that anyone who voted for the Democrats was as guilty of performing abortions as the doctor who actually performed them. Although the idea is absurd, there ARE a lot of folks who believe him.

Trump himself has long been pro-choice, and he urged his then-mistress, Marla Maples, to get an abortion when she got pregnant. She refused, and their daughter Tiffany was born on October 13, 1993. Two months later, she and Donald Trump got married in New York.

In late April, Trump changed his position on abortion 5 times in a 3 day time period, so none of us really knows exactly what his position is.

Although all of us would love to see fewer abortions, the fact remains that abortions go DOWN when Democrats are in power, and go UP when Republicans are in power. They peaked when Reagan was President, declined when Clinton was in office, and increased when George W. was in office. Since Obama has been in office, they have declined 13%, and are now at a 40 year low.

In Iran, the lives of the average citizens did not change much after the re-election of their President, but the members of the marginalized members of their society, especially the religious minority, suffered greatly.

In America, most of would not be greatly inconvenienced by a Trump Presidency, but since his election a week ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented 400 cases of discrimination against Asians, blacks, and Muslims. Those incidents include a Muslim man whose car was fire bombed while driving on a freeway in Texas. When Barack Obama was first elected in 2008, many people watching the ceremony shed tears of joy, and our country during his tenure has improved tremendously, in spite of unprecedented obstruction from some members of the Republican Party. During the period that will eventually become known as the new Camelot, Sister Kathy Sherman’s song, “this is the America I believe in” took on new meaning.

Even is Trump does get sworn in, there are MANY public officials who will fight tooth and nail to defend the progress that we have made as a society, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (who Trump called Pocahontas on the campaign trail) will likely be at the forefront of many of the fights.

give him hell, Elizabeth

Neda’s story has long since faced from memory, but the peaceful protests that she witnessed are still very much alive in America today, and will help to keep our elected demagogues in check.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

those darn Catholics



We recently became aware of the fact that one of our friends from Minnesota, Connie Walsh, had participated in a Future Church teleconference featuring four women who recently became deacons in the Catholic Church. The last time that I saw Connie personally was about 5 years ago. At that time, she was considering becoming a priest, but later decided that the job involved too many administrative duties.

If you would like to listen to the teleconference, a link to it is below:

women on the altar

if you would like to learn more about Roman Catholic women priests, a link to the site is listed below:

let’s rock the boat

During the teleconference, Connie was asked who her modern role model was, and she said it was Sister Joan Chittester, who is a woman that I was familiar with.

Her biography is listed below:

who is Joan Chittester?

Her website is also shown below:

more about Joan

You’ll notice that she has written over 50 books (all of which can be purchased from Amazon) and she also has written numerous other articles. I thought it would be fun to read some of her books, but our local library was not able to obtain any of them.

They final succeeded in finding a book that contained about 6 pages related to her, so I asked them to order it for me.



The book that they obtained was written by Kerry Kennedy (daughter of the later Robert Kennedy) and it is titled “Being Catholic Now”. In addition to the comments by Sister Joan, it also contains comments from 36 other prominent Americans about their Catholic faith.

Kerry is a devout Catholic, as are the majority of the rest of the people in the book. Regardless of your religious background, or your current religious beliefs, it is worth reading. Without exception, the individuals who discussed the nuns or their local priests were very pleased with them. There was less agreement on the church hierarchy, especially the bishops and archbishops.

I guarantee that you’ll find the book to be very educational, but I also guarantee you that at least a few of the individuals quoted will make you feel uncomfortable, which is precisely how all of us learn and grow as we go through life.

If you can find the book at your local library, check it out. If you can’t, it can also be purchased from Amazon.

Go in peace.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Dewey beats Truman



One of the most famous newspaper headlines in history was the one that was printed by the Chicago Daily Tribune on the morning of November 3, 1948, the day after the election. It boldly declared that Thomas Dewey had beaten Harry Truman in the 1948 Presidential election, and it reaffirmed the fact that every poll had confidently predicted that Dewey would win. Just before the election, Life magazine had even released a cover with a photo of Dewey and the caption, “The Next President of the United States”.



Truman was not a glad hander, and the Daily Tribune had a low opinion of him. At one point, they actually called him a nincompoop on their editorial page.

At the time of the election, the Daily Tribune was struggling with a printer’s strike, which forced it to go to press hours before it normally would have. As the deadline for the first headline approached, managing editor Pat Maloney had to make a deadline call, even though results were still coming in from the East Coast. Due to the fact that the paper’s Washington correspondent, Arthur Sears Henning had predicted that Dewey would win, (and he was rarely wrong), Maloney decided to publish the opinion that Dewey had won.

The Tribune had already printed 150,000 copies before radio bulletins reported that the race was surprisingly close. Although the paper ultimately tried to destroy as many of the first edition as it could, one copy managed to get to St. Louis, and was shown to Harry Truman, who proudly held it up for the photographers.

A limited number of papers somehow managed to survive the purge by the Tribune, and a few of them turned up years later. On the day that a Texas couple found one in an abandoned storage facility in 2012, there were six of them listed for sale on eBay. The most expensive one was listed at $2495, but pristine copies of the same edition have sold for as much as $4000, a pretty hefty price for a newspaper that originally sold for 4 cents.

All of us make mistakes at some point in our lives, usually more frequently than we might care to admit. Nevertheless, most of us manage to accomplish enough positive things that we redeem ourselves.

Arguably, the most famous mistake in history was the printing of a postage stamp called “the inverted Jenny”, which was first issued on May 10, 1918. It shows a picture of a Curtis JN-4 airplane flying upside down. Only one pane of 100 inverted stamps was ever found,, which made them prized collector’s items. On May 31, 2016, a perfect copy of an “inverted Jenny” stamp was sold at auction. The final selling price, including the buyer’s premium, was $1,175,000.

The 1948 Presidential election is considered by most historians to be one of the greatest election upsets in American history. Ultimately, Harry Truman captured 28 states and 303 electoral ballots, considerably more than the 266 electoral votes that were required at the time. He got 24,179,347 votes, a little more than 2,000,000 more votes than his rival, Thomas Dewey.

The Truman administration achieved some notable accomplishments, but the start of the Korean War, and his dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur caused his approval rating to plummet to 22% by 1952, which helped Dwight Eisenhower achieve a landslide victory in the 1952 election. After his defeat, Thomas Dewey resumed his role of governor of New York, a role that he held until 1954. At that point, he returned to his private law practice, which made him a very wealthy man.

Thomas Dewey is a good example of handling defeat with honor, and his modern day counterpart is Al Gore, who was defeated by George W. Bush in 2000, even though he had actually captured 500,000 MORE votes than George Bush. The election was finally determined by the fact that Bush captured 271 electoral votes (ONE more that was needed) and Gore captured 266.

I am not a crook.

Eventually, it was determined that Bush actually LOST the election, but by that time, Gore had conceded defeat without whining that the election was “rigged”. As a result, he was able to spend more time discussing climate change, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth”.

The botched headline in 1948 did not do any lasting damage to the Chicago Tribune. Over the years, the paper has earned 25 Pulitzer prizes, a respectable number in view of the fact that owner Robert McCormick refused to participate in the awards for a number of years.

The moral of this story is that if you make a mistake, don’t spend a lot of time agonizing over it. Admit your mistake and move on. Tomorrow is another day.

Friday, October 14, 2016

take me out to the ball game, part 2



By now, most of us are VERY TIRED of politics, so it’s fortunate that all the madness will finally come to fruition in a little more than 3 weeks. The majority of the voting population made their decision a long time ago, which means that Trump supporters are unmoved by the “locker room talk” video that turned up last week, and Clinton supporters really don’t care about the Clinton emails that just got released by Wiki Leaks. However, there ARE a lot of people who are undecided because they don’t trust either side.

There WAS a time that the most trusted person in America was Walter Cronkite, but the highest ranked news person today, Diane Sawyer of ABC World News, weighs in at the #25 slot. The top 4 slots are held by actors, and the highest rated politician is First Lady Michelle Obama, who is slotted #19:

Whether we like to admit it or not, all of us can’t help but feel compelled to devour everything that we can about politics, and easy access to numerous publications and websites helps the feeding frenzy.

As a result, it’s important to step back a minute, and consider the fact that there ARE other things in life besides politics.

Like baseball, for instance.

When I was a kid, the most important sport in America was baseball, but it now ranks 2nd (to football) in popularity. As a result, most of us have forgotten that the World Series will start on October 25, and there is a very good chance that the Chicago Cubs could win, due to the fact that they have the best record in baseball, with 103 wins and 58 losses. In contrast, my “old home team”, the Minnesota Twins, have the WORST record in baseball, with 103 LOSSES.

I rarely watch sports on television, and I haven’t been to a professional ball game for a lot years, but I have met a few people who are avid baseball fans, and wrote about one of them last spring.

The best place in the world to watch professional baseball is at Wrigley Field, which I have done on numerous occasions. There's nothing that can compare to having a cold beer in your hand while watching a baseball game being played outdoors in a stadium that has real ivy growing up its walls.

The pre-eminent Cubs fan is the late Steve Goodman. Although he is better known for “The City of New Orleans”, he also wrote a song titled “a dying Cubs fan last request”.



Fittingly, 4 days after his death, on September 24, 1984, the Cubs clinched the Eastern Division title of the National League for the first time in their history, giving them their first post season berth since the 1945 World Series (the first year of the billy goat curse.).

His last song, “a dying Cubs’ fan last request” is worth listening to again:

Steve Goodmans’s last song

Do yourself a favor, and forget politics for a while.

Let’s all go watch a ball game !

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The furnace is beeping.



Nearly 40 years ago, we lived in a split level house in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, the town where Jesse Ventura was mayor from 1991 to 1995.

When we moved into our home on Yellowstone Trail in the summer of 1978, my favorite wife was a stay at home mom. At the time, our son was less than 2 years old, and his sister joined the family a little more than a year later.

While at work one day, I got a call from my panic stricken wife, who breathlessly told me that the furnace was beeping. You and I both know that furnaces don’t beep, but I decided that the best way to resolve the problem was to leave work early and sort out the issue. When I got home, I immediately went to the basement, and patiently waited for the furnace to beep again. In a minute or so, I heard a beep, but quickly discovered that the sound was coming from the BATTERY OPERATED smoke detector mounted on the ceiling. As you know, they beep when the batteries are running low.

Although today is our 44th anniversary, I decided to go into work today, since it was an easy $45 for only half a day of work. At about 9:30, my phone rang. On the other end was my panic stricken wife, who breathlessly told me that the refrigerator in the garage (which was LOADED with a lot of frozen food that we had recently purchased) was not working.





Now for a little background. ….

When we moved into our current home in Tucson, we brought along the beer refrigerator that I had received from Sharon when I turned 60, and plugged it into the outlet in the garage. A few months later, we acquired a full size refrigerator from some friends who lived in Rincon West, a retirement community on the west side of town. Since they simply wanted to scale down a bit, they gave us the refrigerator for free. We plugged the new refrigerator into the same outlet that the beer refrigerator was plugged into, and placed them side by side in the garage.

A few months later, we came back from a trip to Mesa, and discovered that neither refrigerator was working. I quickly discovered that the ground fault circuit breaker in the outlet on the side of the garage had tripped, shutting down the power on that circuit. Naturally, all the food in the freezer was no longer frozen, and had to be tossed out.

To minimize the possibility of having the power go out without warning, I installed a night light in the outlet on that side of the garage so that we could tell at a glance if the power had gone out again. Thinking that it was possible that both refrigerators had kicked in at the same time and overloaded the circuit, I moved the beer refrigerator to the back porch. A few months after that, the beer refrigerator shut down, and I discovered that it had an electrical short. At that point, we got rid of it.

When I got home this morning, the night light on the side of the garage was on, and the refrigerator light was also working when you opened the door – and that’s when I heard “the rest of the story”.

As it turns out, Sharon discovered (upon further investigation) that the night light had burned out. When she had investigated the refrigerator before, she had opened the freezer door rather than the refrigerator. When she didn’t hear anything running, she naturally assumed that the refrigerator had stopped working, even though (as you know) the compressor does not run constantly. Had she opened the refrigerator door, she would have noticed that the light was on, but that would have made for a far less entertaining story.

Needless to say, all is well, and we didn’t need to call an electrician or buy a new refrigerator. I DID chuckle a bit, and gave her a couple of quick hugs to let her know that I appreciate her, even though we occasionally drive each other crazy.

Happy anniversary, Sharon.

I love you.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

I am the greatest



When he was known as Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali would frequently boast “I am the greatest”. Initially, his braggadocio was dismissed by many critics, who considered him to be a loud mouth black kid from Louisville. Eventually, of course, he proved all of them wrong, when he won the Kentucky Golden Glover championship 6 times, then went on to win an Olympic boxing medal in 1960, followed by 4 heavy weight champion awards, as well as numerous other awards.



He came under particularly harsh criticism when he converted to Islam in the early 1960’s, and even more criticism when he refused induction into the Army, His three year suspension from boxing him kept him out of the ring during what would have been his peak boxing years, and by the time his conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971, he had not fought for nearly 4 years. He subsequently captured the heavy weight boxing title two more times, in 1974 and 1978, before retiring from boxing in 1981. Most of us would agree that it’s good to have self-confidence, but megalomania is a bad thing. Officially, it’s defined as having an inflated sense of self-importance, and no one exhibits this behavior more clearly than Donald Trump, who is far less successful than he thinks he is. Megalomania is also known as a narcisstic personality disorder, and it can’t be cured.

Megalomania can also apply to countries as well. The Nazi belief in Aryan supremacy eventually resulted in the deaths of 6,000,000 Jews, as well as a smaller number of Catholics, gypsies, homosexuals, and others considered not fit.

Quite a few countries have adopted the same attitude over the course of history, going all the way back to the ancient Greeks, and probably even further than that. Closer to home, the attitude is known as “American exceptionalism”, which led to the emergence of the phrase “Make America Great Again”. As actor Jeff Daniels mentioned on an episode of “The Newsroom”, we are NOT the greatest country in the world. As I mentioned in my article of January 25, 2015, our country is ranked #17 when it comes to our public education system (Finland is ranked #1), even though there ARE a number of areas where we are ranked the best in the world.

According to the article listed below, we are ranked #28 in the world when it comes to overall quality of living. As is often the case, the Scandinavian countries usually do pretty well in these types of surveys, but that doesn’t mean that we should all make plans to move to Sweden of Finland.

Lancet study

Before moving to China in 2003, I read a book titled, “Chinese Business Etiquette”, written by Scott Seligman. In the book, Mr. Seligman discusses the concept of guanxi (pronounce gwan she) , which literally means “relationships”. As Hillary Clinton pointed out in her book, “Hard Choices”, it’s critical to maintain respectful relationships with other countries as often as possible, since that is the best possible way to maintain peace in the world. The opposite approach, of course, is the “Bush doctrine”, which caused our relationships with many of our allies to sour. It also cost us over 4000 American lives in needless wars, and will eventually cost us over 6 trillion dollars in direct and indirect expenses.

At the Democratic convention, Michelle Obama said that “America is already great”, and she is absolutely correct. However, it’s also true that we aren’t perfect, and it’s our responsibility to continue to improve our country as well as we can, in spite of the obstacles thrown in our path (some of whom are our elected officials). If we can do that, the next Lancet survey that comes out will place us a lot higher than #28.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Do black patent shoes really reflect up ?



The book shown above was published by the late John .R. Powers in 1975. It was subsequently adapted into a Broadway musical and a screenplay. The book is a hilarious tale about growing up in the Catholic faith, and Powers drew heavily from his own experience growing up as a Catholic in Chicago in the 1950’s. The book is the 2nd novel that he published. The first was “The Last Catholic in America”, and was part of what became known as “the Eddie Ryan trilogy. The 1977 novel titled “The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice Cream God” rounded out the trilogy.



I graduated from a Catholic grade school and a Catholic high school, as did my sister. In addition, she also graduated from a Catholic all girl’s college. Naturally, the books written by Mr. Powers brought back a lot of memories, most of them fond. Even today, I still get regular mailings from my high school, even though I graduated from there more than 50 years ago.

The REASON that I get those mailings has a lot less to do with my alma mater’s affection for me than it does for its need to raise cash for scholarships. I have no idea what my parents paid for my tuition, but I’m fairly certain it was less than $500 a year. Truth be told, it was actually a very good education, since a high percentage of the students who attended there were in college prep classes.

Today, the tuition for grades 9-12 at what is now known as Hill-Murray (the boy’s and girl’s schools merged about 10 years after I graduated) is a jaw-dropping $13,245, which is more than COLLEGE tuition at the public universities in the state of Arizona. In total, donations from various businesses and individuals have helped to create a scholarship fund of $1.34 million. Although the current tuition level sounds high, it is actually very comparable to other private schools around the country.

Some of my current “hot buttons” (concern for the environment and issues of social justice) are the result of seeds that were sown at Mary T. Hill high school.

Somewhere along the line, I followed the path of many folks who grew up Catholic, and simply stopped considering myself to be a Catholic. For a variety of reasons, nearly HALF of the people in this country who were raised in the Catholic faith no longer practice that faith. In part, that’s a reflection of our society in general. Although 70.6% of the American population still consider themselves to be Christian, all of the “mainline” religions have seen a decline. Between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of Americans who consider themselves to be Catholic declined from 23.9% to 20.8%. The only religious group that grew in that time period was “unaffiliated”, which rose from 16.1% of the population to 22.8%.

Although our Founding Fathers were very firm about separating church and state, there are numerous nods to religion in our society, including adding “under God” to the pledge of allegiance in 1954. In 1956, “in God we trust” was adopted as our official national motto, replacing the unofficial motto of “E pluribus Unum. In recent years, a number of cities have added “in God we trust” to their police cars, which very few people got excited about. However, the Detroit suburb of Hamtramck is the first Muslim majority city in America. If they decided to add “Allah be praised” to THEIR police cars, it would take roughly a nanosecond for the right wing conservatives in our country to go ballistic. Bill O’Reilly would probably go into immediate cardiac arrest, and the rest of the FOC crew would spend HOURS debating the impropriety of the act.

Inevitably, of course, religion has crept into our politics. As a result, people who have no business at all holding office get elected due to the fact that “they are good Christians”. Representative Louis Gohmert is the prime example of this phenomenon, but Minnesota has Michelle Bachman, and Arizona has Sylvia Allen.

In the 2008 election cycle, I was initially supportive of the candidates from both parties, but as soon as John McCain selected Sara Palin as his running mate, it became obvious that I needed to vote for Barack Obama.

In 2012, the choice was easier due to the fact that (1) the Obama administration had made significant progress in correcting the mess left by George W. Bush and (2) the Republican Party has gradually been destroyed by the Tea Party and other right wing factions, which has caused it to become a political party that neither Ronald Reagan or Dwight Eisenhower would recognize.

For 2016, the decision is a slam dunk.

Donald Trump does not have the knowledge, the experience, or the temperament to lead our country. On top of that, he is a failed businessman (as evidenced by his 4 bankruptcies) , a prolific adulterer, and a pathological liar. Studies by a variety of fact checking organizations have found that he tells the truth less than 30% of the time.

Hillary Clinton is not the charismatic figure exemplified by Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, or John F. Kennedy. What she IS, though, is one of the MOST QUALIFIED Presidential candidate that we have ever had, a fact that was brought home while I worked my way through her 2014 book titled “Hard Choices”, which chronicles her work while she was Secretary of State. It’s very clear that the work of a diplomat is very delicate work. In addition to his other faults, Trump’s temperament would actually be a GRAVE DANGER for our country, since he would make it more difficult for our diplomatic corps to keep all of us safe.

Hillary has been the victim of 25 years of “witch hunts” by the opposing party. Although the farcical Benghazi “investigations” have finally come to an end, there are STILL people who bring up her emails, and Matt Lauer is the most recent example of that stupidity. If any commentator brought up the topic at any of th Presidential debates (the first is scheduled for September 26th) I’d like to see him shot on the spot, which obviously is not going to happen.

I try to keep an open mind on a variety of topics, which is why I read articles from both progressive and conservative sources. Over a period of years, I have discovered that conservative sources have gotten less reliable, in large part due to the success of FOX “news” and the rise of conservative radio talk show personalities like Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones.

I saw an article recently that professed the belief that you couldn’t be a good Catholic and a Democrat, an idea that is clearly preposterous. You may or may not agree with all of the ideas contained in the 2016 Democratic platform (which IS a very progressive platform), but it wouldn’t take you more than a few minutes of reading the 2016 Republican platform to reach the conclusion that the Party has clearly lost its mind. Although it IS possible that the orange menace could get elected, Nate Silver and other pollsters have all concluded that it’s not likely to happen. As a matter of fact, it’s now quite likely that Trump will continue to pull down the rest of the Republican Party, and cause the Senate to return to the control of “the adults in the room” (the Democrats). Although gerrymandering by state legislatures mean that it is unlikely that the Republicans will lose the House, it’s a dead certainty that they are going to lose some seats in that chamber.

I have no idea what political party John Powers belonged to, nor do I care. What he DID add to our society is the idea that some of our long held beliefs should occasionally be discarded, or at least examined a little more closely. On occasion, even some of my trusted progressive news sources don’t always get the facts right. By the same token, there are STILL a lot of people who think that it makes sense to vote for the Republican Party, even though (to a very large degree) no longer makes sense to do so.

To be honest, I’ve only read the first two books in the “Eddie Ryan trilogy”, but I’m pretty sure that “the unoriginal sinner and the ice cream God” is going to find its way into my hands in the near future.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

canning jars and missiles

When I was in the insurance industry, part of my territory was the state of Indiana. As a result, I wound up providing insurance for Ball Manufacturing Company, which all of us are familiar with, even if your mother didn’t use their jars for her canning.

The company started business in Buffalo, New York, when the Ball brothers purchased a company called the Wooden Jacket Can Company. In 1884, the brothers started to manufacture glass canning jars, and a few years late, moved their operations to Muncie, Indiana.



The company expanded into other product lines during the Great Depression, but took their greatest departure from their roots in 1956, when the management team started an aerospace division. Its first product was a pointing control for missiles.



Since defense weapons have a higher profit margin than glass charges, the company sold its canning business to a subsidiary in 1993. The company moved its headquarters to Broomfield, Colorado in 1998, Although the company continues to sell products to the aerospace industry, it also makes a variety of plastic and metal food storage products.

Although Ike warned us about the “military-industrial” complex in the 1950’s, the defense industry is still a HUGE industry. According to the Stockholm International Peace Institute, worldwide weapons sales in 2013 were $402 billion. The top 10 companies (Ball is not one of them) had sales of over $200 billion, or slightly more than half. 6 of the 10 largest companies are located in the United States of America. The top 2 companies, Boeing and Lockheed, sell a combined total of $75 billion a year.

We all know people who seem to think that having more guns in our society somehow makes us all safer, which is the recent that the Texas legislature recently passed a law to all students to carry weapons on campus. In response, numerous students decided to open carry dildos to demonstrate how still the new law is.

Since Joe McCarthy scared the bejeezus out of all us in the 1950’s, we all know that the Doomsday Clock is. It is now the closest it’s been to midnight at any point in the last 30 years. Fittingly, climate change is now one of the factors that affext the setting, and we just finished the hottest year on record, which proves that global warming IS real.

We’d all like to see an increase in the manufacture of canning jars, and a decrease in the production of weapons, but I don’t think that that’s going to happen anytime in our lifetime.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Benghazi



We watched the Republican convention again on Tuesday night, and I managed to not throw a shoe at the TV, even though I was very tempted to do so.

The big new on Monday, of course, was the speech that Malania stole from Michelle Obama, even though professional speechwriters had crafted a very satisfactory ORIGINAL speech for her.

Both Donald Jr. and Chris Christie brought up Benghazi again, even though SEVEN separate investigations have proven that neither Hillary nor the Obama administration have done anything wrong. The most recent committee, chaired by Trey Gowdy, has lasted two years, and has cost tax payers $7 million. Several members of the committee have admitted that the committee has been conducting a “witch hunt” against Hillary, and Gowdy has been found guilty of altering documents to promote his cause.

Having the mothers of 2 of the victims at Benghazi speak at the convention would have to be classified as a very tacky move, but since the Republicans literally has nothing else positive to say or report, their only option is to bash “the other guys.”

Truth be told, the Benghazi incidentally is entirely the fault of the Republican in Congress.

In 2011, Congress cut $128 million from the administration's request for embassy security funding, and House Republicans cut $331 million in funding for security in 2012, even though Hillary Clinton warned them that it would be a very bad idea.

then ...

Banghazi happened.



Naturally, the GOP is blaming Hillary and Obama.

Clinton's emails have also gotten a lot of attention from conservatives, but exhaustive investigation by both the State Department and the FBI found no wrong doing on Hillary's part. Her two predecessors in the state department also used private email servers, and Gowdy himself STILL uses a private email server while conducting official business.

To put Benghazi in perspective, there were THIRTEEN embassy attacks when George W. Bush was President, and 60 people died. NONE of them were investigated by members of Congress.

Although 90% of the American public knows that we need better gun laws, the GOP trotted out Chris Cox from the NRA to claim that the gun laws are fine just the way they are. It’s good to be concerned about the 4 people killed at Benghazi, but it’s more important to be concerned about the 30,000 people that are killed every year in this country by guns. Even after the worst mass murder in our history occurred recently in Orlando, the Republicans in Congress did NOTHING about gun violence, in spite of the fact that the Democrats in the Senate staged a filibuster, and the Democrats in the House staged a sit in, in an attempt to force a vote.

During the prime time broadcast in Cleveland on Tuesday night, cameras scanned the audience, and revealed the fact that an awful lot of seats were empty. A brave woman carried in a banner that denounced racism, but she was quickly surrounded by a handful of bigoted attendees, who are unlikely to admit that racism exists in the Republican Party.

Even though 97% of the scientists in our country admit that global warming is real, the Republicans still cling to dirty energy. A number of attendees had signs that read “Trump digs coal”. A high percentage of the pollution in our country comes from coal fired power plants. Coal plants are the nation's top source of carbon dioxide, the primary cause of global warming.

If you included the economic costs of coal pollution, you'll discover that it is around $100 billion a year in America.

If you've been watching the Republican convention at all, you've come to the realization that the circus has, indeed, come to town. What was striking about all of the prime time speakers at the convention is that NONE of them (including Trump himself) offered ANY concrete solutions to the problems that we all face. True to form, Trump also stated in his closing address that only HE was able to fix America’s problems.

Several pundits this morning mentioned that they would have preferred his speech in the original German, since its tone was strikingly similar to words that were spoken in Germany in the 1930’s.



Now that the circus has folded up its tent and left town, you’re still going to hear a lot about both Benghazi and Hllary’s emails since the Republican Party is unlikely to come up with much that’s positive before the November election. In fact, if you read the 2016 Republican platform, you’d swear that it was 1956 again, but Ike is nowhere in sight. It’s not exactly an optimistic document. Strangely enough, the 1956 Republican platform reads a LOT like the 2016 DEMOCRATIC platform.

You’re going to hear a lot about both Benghazi and Hillary’s emails right up until Election Day, and even long after President Clinton is sworn in to office. If you want the truth about Benghazi, don’t expect to get if from FOX “news”. Hopefully, this article will be of help to you.

Friday, July 15, 2016

those darn Jews





Sharon just finished reading “Inmate 1818”, written by a Holocaust survivor named Bernard Otterman. The book is actually a compilation of 12 short stories that were inspired by the Holocaust and its aftermath. Like virtually all books about the Holocaust, it makes for very compelling reading. Since Sharon had not previously read Elie Wiesel’s “Night” or Victor Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning”, I have both of them on order from the local library. Since Mr. Wiesel just died on July 2 of this year, the reserved list for “Night” is very lengthy. Although he wrote a total of 57 books, “Night” is the one that is best known by the general public.

Although we’re all familiar with many of the details of the Holocaust, the best way to get a strong perspective on the atrocities committed by the Nazis is to visit the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, or the llinois Holocaust Museum and Education Centerin Skokie, Illinois. I’ve been to both of them, and found them to be very informative. The Skokie museum was especially interesting due to the fact that it houses an authentic railroad car that was used to transport Jews to the various concentration camps used by the Nazis.

If you live on the East Coast, you may also want to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Discrimination against Jewish people started long before the rise of the Nazis. In 1492, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain expelled practicing Jews from Spain. Their order was titled the Alhambra Decree, and was also known as the Edict of Expulsion. Jews were allowed to stay if they converted to the Catholic faith, and over 200,000 of them did so. It is estimated that up to 100,000 Jews moved from Spain. The punishment for Jews who did not convert or leave was summary execution.

The origins of the Holocaust in Germany did not actually start in Germany. The origins actually started in the good old USA.

The theory of “the master race” is an outgrowth of the philosophy of eugenics. The modern practice of eugenics emerged in the early part of the 20th century at roughly the same time in both England and America. During that same time period, anti-Semitism was a big problem in America, as exemplified by none other than Henry Ford, whose publication of “The International Jew” in the early 1920’s was an inspiration to Adolf Hitler, who had a picture of Henry Ford on the wall of his office in Berlin. Not surprisingly, the KKK was the strongest in our country in the 1920’’s. The 1923 Konclave in Kokomo, Indiana was the largest ever held in this country, with over 100,000 people in attendance.



Although the second wave of the KKK was the most fervent anti-Jewish group, the current itineration of the group has sworn to uphold “Christian morality”, even though virtually every Christian denomination has condemned the group. The current national director of the KKK a Baptist pastor named Thomas Robb, who was “awakened to the myth of the Holocaust” when he was 13. While still in high school, he was an active member of the John Birch Society, the predecessor to today’s Tea Party.

Henry Ford was far from the only prominent American in America who didn’t like Jews. Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh was the public spokesman for the America First Committee, which opposed involvement in the war in Europe. Although Lindbergh never ran for office, an intriguing look at what a Lindbergh Presidency would have been like can be found in Philip Roth’s “the plot against America”.

After Kristallnacht occurred on November 10, 1938, it became obvious to German Jews that they needed to leave the country, but they received little, if any, help from other countries in the world. One of the most glaring examples of world indifference was the voyage of the MS St. Louis,which set sail from Hamburg to Havana on May 13, 1939 with 937 refugees from Nazi Germany. Then, as now, refugees were looked upon with distrust, and Cuba refused to allow the ship to dock there. After being denied entry there, the ship went to the United States, which also refused to allow the refuges to disembark. After Canada also refused to allow the boat to dock, it returned to Germany, where SOME of the refugees were taken in by other European countries. Ultimately, though, more that 200 of the refugees died in Nazi concentration camps.

Although Donald Trump and the FOX network have fanned the flames of Islamophobia in this country, the reality is that more Jews in America are victims of hate crimes than Muslims. According to the most recent date from the FBI, there were 1140 victims of religious hate crimes in our country in 2014, and 57% were against Jews. Muslims amounted to 16% of the total, and other groups (including Catholics) made up the balance. All told, the FBI discovered a grand total of 7164 hate crimes in 2014. Of that total, nearly half were due to bias against race, and 66% of those were due to anti-black bias.

Oddly enough, references about Jews are largely absent from the news today, so why it is important to consider what happened in the past to a religious group that constitutes .2% of the world’s population (14.2 million people)? At its peak in 1939, the world Jewish population was 17 million, but the Holocaust eliminated 6,000,000 Jewish people, bringing the total to 11,000,000. Of the 14,000,000 that are alive today, roughly half live in the United States.

The answer to that question is that the bigotry that condemned those 6,000,000 people to their deaths is still very much alive today, and we need to do as much as we can to contain it. The best way to do that is by voting for the right people.

The Republican National convention starts this week in Cleveland. Although I plan to watch at least a portion of it so that I can watch the chaos unfold, it’s obvious by now that NONE of the Republicans running for office in November should be elected, and Donald Trump is, by far, the worst of the bunch. Any political group that discriminates against people of a certain religion, or discriminate against people because of their skin color, their national origin, their sexual orientation, or their gender, is simply not fit for office.

Shalom

Monday, July 11, 2016

why I don't watch television, part 2



About three years ago, I wrote a short article about the troubles that I’ve had trying to watch television:

this is WAY too complicated

Since I published that article, we have moved from Flagstaff to Tucson, exactly one year ago. Although we retained Century Link as our internet provider, we changed to Comcast for our television network because Direct TV (with the channels that Sharon liked) was no longer available in Tucson.

In February of this year, we BREIFLY switched our cell phone service from Sprint to T-mobile, which was an absolute disaster. I published the gory details of that episode on March 9 of this year. In the end, everything worked out fine. We switched back to Sprint, and both of us now have smart phones, which has made our lives a lot easier.

Roughly three weeks ago, I made the mistake of upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 10, which turned out to be another disaster. The net result of THAT change is that the only home computer that I now have is a 9 year old laptop that I borrowed from our son. Fortunately, the brand new router that we got from Century Link gives us Wi-Fi capabilities on our phones, which takes care of virtually all our internet needs. If I need to write a lengthy article, the country library (with its brand new computers) is only about 3 miles away.

Now, back to the television …

In January, I sold our aging surround sound system (which we were no longer using) to the local pawn shop for $200, and used that money to buy a new “smart” flat screen TV for roughly the same amount of money. Sharon wanted to have everything controlled with one remote, so she called Comcast out to the house to guide her through it all.

So far, so good.

The only problem was that we could no longer get the DVD player to work. To fix THAT problem, I had to buy a new DVD player that had HDMI connections. In order to get the DVD player to work, we need to use the Vizio remote that came with the TV (after we have used the Comcast remote to turn it on) to switch to the HDMI2 mode, and then we need to use the remote that came with the DVD player to make it all work.

So far, so good.

Sharon now decided that she wanted to add Netflix. After putting in her password, Netflix did not work.



So..

This morning, she called Comcast and asked them to walk her through the operation of the channel. After they checked the connection on their end, they asked her to call Century Link due to the fact that Netflix needed Wi-Fi to work. On the bottom of our router are three separate combinations of numbers. One is the key/password, another is the WPS pin, and the third is the administrator password. As it turns out, the key/password is the one that we needed. After we finally got THAT number entered correctly, they advised us to call Visio, who finally was able to get Sharon to where she wanted to go. After that, it only took one more phone call (to our daughter) to help navigate through the different channels.

Now that the television is finally working to our satisfaction, we've decided that we are NEVER MOVING AGAIN.!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

the devil made me do it



I’ve never been terribly superstitious about numbers, even though my new bride and I got hit by a deer on our honeymoon – on Friday the 13th. Our first home together was just off of Highway 13 in West Paul, Minnesota, and our first pet was a black cat.

I wrote about triskaidekaphobia more than 7 years ago. The link below will help you explore other superstitions that are given credence to around the world.

do you feel lucky,punk?

Although the Muslim religion is the world’s single most popular religion (with 1.3 billion adherents), Christianity actually has the most in total, (at 2.1 billion) if you lump the 1.2 billion Catholics with the other Christian religions. For a lot of Christians, the number 666 takes on special significance because it is the sign of the devil. The verse confirming that the “number of the beast” is 666 is found (ironically enough) in chapter 13 of the book of Revelations.

For a period of time, my sister’s telephone exchange in Los Angeles was 666 (her full number was 213-666-xxxx). That fact never bothered either one of us, and it’s unlikely that it ever bother too many people in “tinseltown”

However…

The folks who live in the Bible Belt would likely be horrified if “666” somehow found its way into their phone numbers. For a period of time, it did. The town of Reeves, Louisiana (deep in the Bible Belt) actually DID have a 666 area code for a period of time, starting in the 1960’s. After much lobbying by the folks in town, the phone company finally agreed to change the number in 2007 to one that it less controversial – 749.

Here’s a few other little known facts about “the sign of the devil”:

1- on 6/6/06, the average 30 year mortgage in America was 6.66 %

2 – The first Apple computer retailed for $666.66 due to the fact that Steve Wozniak picked the price because it was easy to type with one finger.

3 – If you add up the numbers on a roulette wheel (0 through 36) you’ll discover that they add up to 666

4- When King Solomon was reigning, he collected 666 talents of gold every year (see 1 Kings 10:14) , which works out to about 60 pounds.

5 - In the DaVinci Code, Dan Brown listed the number of panes of glass in the Louvre as 666, which is actually pretty close (it’s 673)

6 – Stanley Kubrick, producer and director of 2001, died 666 days before the start of the year 2001.

7 – Although Chinese people consider the number “4” to be unlucky (because it rhymes with the Mandarin word for death) they actually consider “666” to be a lucky number. As a matter of fact, some people actually pay extra to include the number in their phone numbers.

If the number “666” somehow makes its way into your life, don’t be too concerned about it. There’s always the possibility that it could be a hell of a lucky number for you.

Monday, June 13, 2016

snakes !



Nothing will get your blood flowing faster in the morning than discovering that you have a snake in your backyard - which is precisely what happened to us this morning.

Since our backyard is enclosed, we normally let the cats out into the yard in the morning to get a fresh breath of air before the temperature starts climbing towards triple digits.

This morning, both cats were staring at a "critter" that was under the patio furniture in the back yard. When the critter moved, both cats jumped back at least 2 feet. On closer examination, we discovered that there was some kind of snake curled up under the table. Since Sharon swore that she heard the thing rattle, she called the fire department. In less than 15 minutes, the fire department had come to the house, and successfully removed the snake.

As it turns out, the snake in question was a gopher snake, and it is totally harmless. In fact, it is beneficial to have them around since they keep down the rodent population.

In North America, there are 50 species of snakes, and almost all of them are harmless. The correct technical name of the gopher snake is Pituophis catenifer. However, there ARE some snakes that you definitely want to avoid.

The 4 types of poisonous snakes are the Copperhead, the coral snake, the cottonmouth, and the rattlesnake.

They look like this:

copperhead



coral snake



cottonmouth



rattlesnake



Although the cottonwood snake is normally found in the eastern parts of the United States, the other three can be found throughout the country. If you encounter any of these critters, the best thing to do is to move away from it, or to let it cross the path of the trail you are hiking on before proceeding.

If you happen to see one in your back yard, the safest alternative is to simply call the fire department.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Lock ‘em up and throw away the key …



I watched a few of the early Republican debates, and a few of the early Democratic debates, but lost interest after that. If you had the stamina to watch every single debate, you would have discovered the main topics for each set of debates, some of which actually matched.

On the Republican side, the 7 main issues were as follows:

1 - Donald Trump’s debate appearance

2- the candidate’s Christian faith

3 - the Iran prisoner exchange

4 - terrorism and the Islamic State

5 - the economic recovery

6- immigration

7 - supporting the eventual nominee

On the Democratic side, the main topics were as follows:

1 - the Iran prisoner exchange

2 - Sander’s general election viability

3 - Benghazi and the “13 hours” movie

4 - national security

5 - terrorism and the Islamic State

6 - gun control

7- climate change and energy

8 - Clinton’s ties to Wall Street

We’re all going to have differences of opinion about which topics are more important. In my opinion, someone‘s Christian faith is absolutely unimportant, but I AM concerned about gun control and climate change. You may well have different priorities than I do.

If you dug a little deeper, you’d find that there IS one other topic that was discussed in the debates, and that is criminal justice reform. Since the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, it’s a topic that SHOULD be explored further.

As of January 25, the Democratic candidates had mentioned criminal justice reform 28 times during the course of the 4 debates that had been held up to that time. In the six Republican debates that had been held up to that time, it wasn’t mentioned at all.

Why is prison reform so important?

The January 3, 2016 edition of the New York Times contained a column that was titled, “How to Help Former Inmates Thrive”:

The article is worth reading in its entirely, but the most compelling statement (by a former prison) is this:

“I don’t understand why over the 18 year period of my incarceration, over $900,000 was paid to keep me in prison, but when I was paroled, I was given $200 and told “good luck”.

I’ve managed to avoid incarceration my entire life, but an innocent prank by my then 18-year old son caused him to spend a night in jail, and to be charged (briefly) with committing a felony. The truth is that it’s actually easier to become a felon than you might think.

In 4 states (Arizona is one of them) possession of ANY marijuana at all is automatically a felony.. 10 states, and the District of Columbia, have removed felony possession of marijuana from their books, and a few other states have removed felony convictions for possessing only minor amounts. Surprisingly, even in states that have legalized recreational marijuana (like Oregon and Colorado) you can still be convicted of a felony if you possess over a certain amount of the stuff.

Believe it or not, the discussion of felonies actually affects all of us, since it leads to two related topics:

1 - should felons be allowed to vote ?

2 - should felons be allowed to own guns?

With respect to voting rights, it may surprise you to know that most states allow convicted felons to vote. In most states, felons can’t vote while they are serving their sentence, but Maine and Vermont actually allow felons to continue voting even when they are in prison. Virginia is one of a nandful the states that required governor’s action or a court order to restore voting rights, but on April 22, Governor Terry McAuliffe, signed a bill that restored voting rights to convicted felons.

Wayne LaPierre, whose headquarters is in Fairfax, Virginia, is one of the conservatives who was less than enthusiastic about Governor McAuliffe’s recent action, and there’s a reason for that.

Although “people of color” make up 30% of America’s population, they account for 60% of those imprisoned. Since people of minority races are far more likely to vote for Democrats (who generally are in favor of strong gun control laws) allowing more convicted felons to vote translates into fewer voters who support the NRA.

LaPierre, naturally, thinks that more convicted felons should be allowed to own guns. Although the 1938 Federal Firearms Act prohibited felons from owning guns, there ARE some exceptions to the rule,.

Any attempts by the administration to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them (like domestic violence abusers) is looked up with horror by the NRA.

The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban of 1996 bans access to firearms by people convicted of crimes of domestic violence. The key word here, though, is “convicted”. Only 16 states take away the guns of alleged domestic abusers after the imposition of a court imposed restraining order. Those temporary restraining orders, unfortunately, often become a death sentence for the women who sought protection.

There is no question that there are some very nasty people in our nation’s prisoners (two of whom are pictured below) , but it’s also true that there are an awful lot of our current prison population that should not be there at all. Currently, there are four states Oklahoma, Mississippi, Delaware, and Louisiana that have a higher incarceration rate than any nation on earth.







Naturally, it costs a LOT of money to keep all those people in prison, so it simply makes sense that reducing the prison population would save states a LOT of money, which could be used for far more productive uees. In 2014, voters in California passed Proposition 47, which re categorized some non violent offenses as misdemeanors rather than as felonies. As a result of the proposition, the state was able to reduce its prison population by 13,000 people, which saved the state $150 million in incarceration costs.

Unfortunately, not enough states are smart enough to follow California’s example. If you added up what all 50 states on incarceration each year, you’d come up with somewhere between $43 billion and $74 billion.

That’s just dumb.

The private prison industry, naturally, has a vested interest in keeping as many people locked up as possible. One of those companies, the Corrections Corporation of America, made a profit of $1.7 billion in 2010, Another private prison company, the Geo Group, made a profit of $1.2 billion the same year. In order to protect their cash cow, the private prison companies spent a LOT of money on lobbying expenses. In 2010, CCA spent $18 million buying the votes of friendly legislatures.

Most people are smart enough to realize that investing money in education is the best way to grow a state’s economy. Sadly, most Republicans aren’t that smart.

Last spring, the Arizona legislature cut $104 million from the budgets of the state’s universities.. In that same “austere budget”, the legislature somehow found enough money to INCREASE spending on corrections by $20,000,000.

Arizona is far from alone in its misplaced priorities, since there are 11 states that spend more money on prisons that on higher education. Arizona is one of those 11 states.

The existence of a prison system that is too lenient doesn’t adequately protect society as a whole, but it’s also true that the “tough on crime” approach advocated by some folks doesn’t work either.

The “toughest sheriff in America (Joe Arpaio) is famous for making prisoners wear pink underwear and sleep in tents during Arizona’s summers. However, from 2002 to 2009, violent crime in Arizona decreased in all police jurisdictions except one, Maricopa County, where violent crime INCREASED by 58%.

Over the years, Sheriff Joe has cost Arizona taxpayers over $150 million in defending him against lawsuits. Although he has stated publicly that he plans to run for a sixth term in November, the fact that he was recently found in contempt of Federal Court may dampen his plans.

If you STILL think that it’s smart to “lock ‘em up and throw away the key“, I have some advice for you.

Take a deep breath, count to 10, and read the article again. If that doesn’t work, try this.

Take a deep breath, count to 10, and read the article again.

Eventually, I think that you’ll catch on.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

OLD FRIENDS / BOOKENDS



The song, “Bookends” was written by Paul Simon in 1968, and became both the first and last song on the first side of the fourth Simon and Garfunkel album, also titled “Bookends”. It’s a very pleasant song to listen to, which you can do by clicking on the link below:

YouTube to the rescue

If you think that the duo look a bit young in the link shown above, you’re absolutely correct, since they were both 26 when the song was recorded.

Paul Simon was born on 10/13/1941, and Art Garfunkel was born on 11/5/1941, which means that both of them have ALREADY discovered how “terribly strange it is to be 70“. If you’d like to see what these two music icons look like at the age of 74, take a quick peak at the pictures below.





William Shakespeare, of course, figured out how terribly strange it was to be 70 a long time ago, since Act II - Scene VII - (The Forest) of “as You Like It” details the “7 ages of man”.

The lyrics to “Bookends” have become more significant as we’ve gotten older, since we already have friends (and relatives) who have reached, or surpassed, that age. Here’s the lyrics:

Old friends

Old friends

Sat on their park bench like bookends

A newspaper blowin' through the grass

Falls on the round toes

Of the high shoes

Of the old friends

Old friends

Winter companions, the old men

Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sunset

The sounds of the city sifting through trees

Settle like dust

On the shoulders of the old friends

Can you imagine us years from today

Sharing a park bench quietly?

How terribly strange to be seventy

Old friends

Memory brushes the same years

Silently sharing the same fear

A time it was, and what a time it was, it was

A time of innocence

A time of confidences

Long ago it must be

I have a photograph

Preserve your memories

They're all that's left you

I’m not a septuagenarian yet, but I’m an awful lot closer than I used to be.

There was a time, of course, when people who were 70 were considered to be absolutely ancient, but the Baby Boomer generation apparently operates on the belief that we’re all gong to live forever.

In addition to Simon and Garfunkel, most of the musicians we listened to during our college years are still performing in their “retirement years”.

In October, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Neil Young will be performing together in Indio, California. Tickets were priced at $395 each, and the concert was sold out in 5 hours.

When the concert starts, the age of the performers will be as follows:

Neil Young - 70

Keith Richards - 72

Mick Jagger - 73

Paul McCartney - 74

Bob Dylan - 75

Ronald Reagan has the distinction of being the oldest person in our country to be elected President. On Inauguration Day of his first term of office, he was 69 years old, but turned 70 less than a month later. On Inauguration Day, 2017, Donald Trump will be 70, Hillary Clinton will be 69, and Bernie Sanders will be 75. As Bob Dylan once sang, "the times they are a changin'".

The guy who played “Dirty Harry”, incidentally, became 86 years old on May 31, As recently as a year ago, he was still working. His latest project, the film “American Sniper”, grossed over $500 million internationally, which made it one of the most successful films that he’s ever been involved with.

Both Sharon and I keep in regular contact with a handful of people that we have known for over 50 years - which brings up a point.

Most of us would consider it desirable to have a nice house, a new car, and a fat bank account, but none of those things are as valuable as something that can only be acquired over a long period of time.

Old friends.